Calling your Mexican restaurant ‘La Piñata’ is akin to a gastropub calling itself ‘Egg and Spoon’. Beating a piñata – a fragile, treat-filled parcel – until it gives up its treasure is a traditional Mexican party game. The signal this sends is ‘Don’t take us too seriously’, and yet this Hackney newcomer – in spite of its heavily themed decor (sombreros, flags), has a menu full of authentic intent.
Sure, there are crowd-pleasers (burritos, fajitas and the like), but there’s also a passion for proper ingredients, some of which have been imported especially. We were thrilled to find huitlacoche (fat, fungal growths, not unlike mushrooms, that grow on sheaths of corn, and considered a delicacy) on the menu – their full, almost meaty flavour the perfect filling for a quesadilla. Mixiote de cordero, the lamb version of a typical Pueblan dish, was a shank cooked with fresh chilli and cactus paddles (nopales) inside a banana-leaf wrapper, but our meat was a little dry.
Other dishes – soft, open tacos of slow-cooked pork (carnitas), say – had similar failings: plenty of flavour, but not enough moisture. Happily, a classic tres leches pudding (a cake and puddle of sauce made, as the name suggests, with three milks – including the sweetened, condensed kind), lifted our spirits. Now, if we’d have been given a stick to beat the piñatas hanging above us before leaving, then we’d really have been smiling.